Mask rules have tightened in Europe during the winter wave of Covid-19
Italy, Spain and other European countries are reinstating or toughening mask mandates as their hospitals grapple with growing numbers of Covid-19 patients.
Other countries, such as the Netherlands, are considering introducing masking rules.
In the case of Italy, the use of more protective FFP2 masks is also seen as a way to keep businesses and public services running.
The Italian government says vaccinated people who have been in contact with someone who tested positive for coronavirus can avoid quarantine as long as they wear an FFP2 mask in public for 10 days.
As Italian hospital intensive care units quickly fill with mostly unvaccinated Covid-19 patients, the government announced on Christmas Eve that FFP2 masks – which offer users more protection than cloth masks or surgical – must be worn on public transport, including planes, trains, ferries and subways.
This is in addition to current rules which state that passengers in Italy, from this week, must be vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19.
FFP2s must also now be worn in theatres, cinemas and sporting events, indoors or outdoors, and cannot be removed even so their wearers can eat or drink.
Italy reintroduced the outdoor mask mandate, having never lifted its indoor mandate – even when infections fell sharply in the summer.
Spain reinstated its outdoor mask rule on Christmas Eve. After the 14-day contagion rate soared to 2,722 new infections per 100,000 people at the end of last week – from 40 per 100,000 in mid-October – Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was asked if the mandate of the outer mask helped.
“Of course it is,” Mr. Sanchez said. ” This is not me saying it. It’s science itself that says so, because (it’s) a virus that contracts when you exhale.
Portugal brought back masks in late November, having largely dropped the requirement when it hit its target of vaccinating 86% of the population.
Greece has also reinstated its outdoor mask mandate, while requiring an FFP2 or double surgical mask on public transport and in indoor public spaces.
This week, the Dutch government’s epidemic management team recommended a mask mandate for people over the age of 13 in busy public indoor spaces such as restaurants, museums and theaters, and for spectators during indoor sporting events.
These venues are currently closed under a lockdown, which is expected to end on Friday.
In France, the obligation of the external mask was partially restored in December in many cities, including Paris. The age at which children must start wearing masks in public places has been lowered from 11 to 6 years old.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer announced last week that people must wear FFP2 masks outside if they cannot keep at least two meters apart.
In Italy, with more than two million people currently testing positive for the virus in a country of 60 million people and workplace absences cutting trains and buses, the government is also seeing masks as a way to enable society to function more fully.
People who have received recent booster shots or second doses of vaccine can now avoid quarantine after coming into contact with an infected person if they wear an FFP2 mask for 10 days.
The government has ordered shops to make FFP masks available for 75 euro cents (62p). In the first year of the pandemic, FFP2s cost up to 10 euros (£8.35) – whenever they could be found.
On Monday, the Vatican City State mandated FFP2s in all indoor locations. The small fortified independent state across the Tiber from the heart of Rome has also stipulated that Vatican employees can go to work without quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tested positive if, in addition to being completely vaccinated or have received a booster, they wear FFP2.
Francis appeared to be wearing an FFP2 as he emerged from a music store near the Pantheon earlier this week, surprising shoppers in Rome, before being taken back to the Vatican.
Nino Cartabellotta, chairman of the Bologna-based GIMBE foundation, which monitors health care in Italy, said the situation in Britain shows what can happen when measures such as mask-wearing are not valued.
“The situation in the UK has shown that the use of vaccination alone is not sufficient” to get ahead of the pandemic, he said, even though it was one of the first countries to start vaccination .